A sickness is apparently brought on by the appearance of Tabby's star near Mars.
| When something significant happens, people tend to remember what it was they were doing at that time. It so happened that I was appreciating a particularly fine woman who happened to be walking past me and I deliberately stuck my chest out a bit, which caused her to laugh at me. She knew I was making fun of her husband.
Mars was covered with a multitude of domes across its surface and I lived in one of them. I was fresh out of basic school and looking to get employment as an asteroid miner in deep space, so job hunting was also on my mind. I never thought that within a week, she and thirty percent of everyone on Mars would be dead. Maybe the numbers were higher, I don’t know.
The sickness came on the night it appeared in the sky. Planetwide, hundreds of thousands of us fell sick. It couldn’t be a coincidence that something shows up in the sky and everybody gets sick, yet no one could figure out what it was that made us sick. Some sickened worse than others and many died. The sickness came on as a sense of fatigue, much as if a vampire had some invisible straw stuck into the neck of every person on the planet, including me, and had an appetite that never stopped. I clenched my jaw at this thought but quickly stopped when the grinding of my teeth irritated me more than the thought of some imagined vampire. Ouch.
Some, of course, wanted to flee, but Earth quickly let it be known that anyone attempting to come to it would be shot down; I believed them. Besides, Earth was so very far away it wouldn’t be feasible to even think about traveling to it. In truth, I heard all the stories about Earth people and fully believe they are not friends to Martians. That is the way it is. We are alone out here.
I struggled to look up into the sky and saw Tabby’s star, or what they were calling it, right there, always there. It took up a large part of the sky and I immediately was reminded why people don’t look up anymore. Looking up made the sickness worse. Looking up made me sweat profusely as if from some giant effort. I wasn’t affected near as badly as most people, but bad enough. I was one of the few able to get up and move about, albeit, very slowly. Most people, I swear, simply sat down somewhere and didn’t get up again. I managed to get some water in some of the people lying down, but it was mostly hopeless. Their will to exist was weak. “I won’t be like them,” I whispered for no one to hear.
In some ways, my dreams of mining the asteroid belt up there, along with half the other guys I knew, grew stronger because of Tabby’s star up there. Getting off this planet might prove to be a safer thing for everyone. My small size makes me much more suited to the task of mining those rocks. I can crawl into the nooks and crevices and not have to worry so much about tearing my suit. I never liked being called a Half-Man, as they called me…just because I was half their size, they said. I didn’t hate them for it, not anymore. Once, it would have been fighting words and they knew it. Now, it didn’t matter. I trudged in between the bodies of the living and the dead with a very heavy heart. I managed to mark the ones that could still take water, but those were becoming fewer. I threw my bucket down and it bounced, spilling the water onto the ground. This was useless.
The day came when ‘They’ appeared. That is what we, those of us still left, called them, ‘They’. Oh, we also called them Skeletons, Hobs, Clucks, and a bunch of really bad names. I called them Skeletons. Even as short as I was, these guys were a full head shorter than I was. The story I told about where they came from was that one day they just rose up out of the soil of Mars, but that was my story. I had no better explanation. Anyway, there were at least two Skeletons for every person on the planet, if what I heard was correct, and they floated right into our domes which kept us safe from the harmful space. Walls were no barrier for them. They didn’t talk, just floated around, but man, they were pleasant to be around, I mean, really pleasant. People were trying to worship them, that’s how good they were to be around. Once the pair of Skeletons found me, I immediately began to feel the energy I didn’t have before, and yet I hated them. I hated Tabby’s star up there and I fully believe it is responsible for bringing Skeletons to life. This was a clear invasion and everyone knew it, yet, what could we do? Some declared that we were saved, but I just thought them idiots.
With my new energy, I ran. I managed to get away from my skeletons for a time, but I lost energy after being away from them for any amount of time. Before too long, they found me. They always found me. I grabbed one of them and was surprised again at how squishy they were. They were semi-transparent with light skin over what were obviously bones. Their bones weren’t hard like our bones, though. They were all squishy. I noticed a pleasant odor when squeezing them. Really pleasant, like my mind was suddenly on fire and I wanted to dance. I figure it was some sort of drug and I stepped away and the feeling died down some. Of course, squeezing them became addictive. The harder I squeezed, the more I got. Screaming didn’t help at all. These things were just there. They didn’t talk. They didn’t react, even when I hit one with an iron bar. It just floated there, staring right through me without any reaction. The bar just bounced off of it. I clawed at it with my hands and noticed bits of flesh under my fingernails and I went and scrubbed it out with lots and lots of soap while that thing floated beside me, watching, I think. This sparked a round of experiments. Nothing affected these creatures, not really. They gave no sign of intelligence. Knives would cut them, but nothing I did to them seemed to affect them. Fingernails did scratch them, but they did heal over a short time like it never happened.
Others were in contact with Earth. Earth people naturally wanted to know what was going on out here and surprisingly, there were people here willing to tell them. Not that there was much to say. Okay, that’s not quite true. They were calling that thing in the sky ‘Tabby’s Star’ after a star that inexplicably lost a noticeable amount of energy. This thing in my sky was a projection, obviously, because it had no gravitational pull. Otherwise, the objects around this space would be ripped out of their orbit and flung toward it. That didn’t happen. There was another theory about it being a Dyson sphere, but that is ridiculous. It was a projection of a star. I didn’t want to hear anything else about it. Unless, of course, someone were to tell me that the thing was going away? No luck with that yet.
It took several days to clean up the bodies so they weren’t underfoot. It wasn’t manly, but I cried once the bodies were deposited outside the dome. I helped haul them without a single tear, but once the job was done, I cried. I looked sharply at the beings floating around me. Something knotted in my belly and I punched the thing, hard. I bruised my knuckles, but that was it. I huffed, and turned away, ignoring the addicting scent that wafted my way; well, trying hard to ignore it anyway. I heard laughter from somewhere for the first time in a long while. I gritted my teeth, again.
A few days later, I found myself walking past a shrine dedicated to the Skeletons. It was actually weird to see people up and doing things and I spit when I saw this shrine. These things are a part of the sickness brought down upon us by Tabby’s star up there! I refrained from saying or doing anything, but barely. Keeping calm was getting harder and harder these days and it was never something I was good at, controlling my anger, that is. The thought of getting away from my own personal skeleton made my stomach clench with the imagined return to sickness. Even my own body has turned against me in this.
My apartment was in shambles. Breaking things has become the new me. There was little left for me to take my anger out on. I sullenly looked at the skeletons looking back at me without any sort of feeling that I could tell. I had scratched the hell out of them. That was the only thing that gave me any sort of relief, just knowing I could affect them, even if only in such a small way. A growl came from somewhere and it didn’t take me long to realize that it came from me. My mind could tell I was spiraling, but it didn’t do any good. I was out of control with nothing left to break. Drool dripped from my mouth and I wiped it away…
I awoke to find the skeletons gone and a burning sensation in my belly. It made sense that the skeletons were meant to be consumed. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Why no one thought of this before was beyond me. I looked at my arm, expecting a sense of fatigue, but there was nothing like that. In fact, I felt great, better than I can ever remember feeling. I leaped out of bed and was willing to bet I was the only person on the planet with such energy. Eventually, I found myself looking up at Tabby’s star and realized I was no longer tense. I didn’t hate the thing like I used to. There had to be something to say about eating your skeletons, right?
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